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Rights Unit Says It Closed Cases Speedily in 1988

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Washington--The Education Department's office for civil rights, which has often been criticized for the length of time it takes to resolve discrimination complaints, speeded up its pace last year, according to the ocr's annual report.

The office was able to resolve discrimination cases more quickly in 1988 than in any year since former President Reagan took office, despite an increase in the number of complaints filed as a result of the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, the report said.

It noted that the ocr closed 27 percent more cases last year than in the previous year. The average age of pending complaints last year was 104 days, the lowest such figure since 1979, according to the report.

"These figures show clearly that we are working more diligently and efficiently than ever to protect the essential civil rights of students everywhere," Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos said in a statement.

Of the 3,531 complaints received by the ocr in fiscal year 1988, the report said, 1,323 alleged discrimination on the basis of handicap. Another 880 involved charges of sex discrimination, 499 allegations of racial bias, and 56 claims of discrimination on the basis of age. In addition, 635 complaints charged multiple violations, and 138 touched on other issues.

The press release describing the civil-rights office's activities "makes ocr sound like a widget factory," said Phyllis McClure, director the naacp Legal Defense and Educational Fund's division of policy and information.

"Their press releases ought to describe the problems of discrimination and inequities that they have resolved," she said.

The ocr's enforcement of federal civil-rights statutes has been harshly criticized in two major reports this year. (See Education Week, Jan. 25 and March 1, 1989.)

The reports alleged that ocr staff members have encouraged people to drop complaints and used other questionable means to speed the processing of the office's caseload.--ws

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